Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.10.09

Andreas Michalopoulos, Ancient Etymologies in Ovid's Metamorphoses: A Commented Lexicon (ARCA (Classical and Medieval Texts, Paper and Monographs) 40).   Leeds:  Francis Cairns Publications, 2001.  Pp. Pp.viii, 204.  ISBN 0 905205 98 7.  

Reviewed by Michael Paschalis, University of Crete (
Word count: 2416 words

This volume is a revised doctoral thesis presented at the University of Leeds in March 1997. It comprises an Introduction (1-12), a main part entitled "Etymologies" (13-185), a Bibliography (187-191), and an Index Locorum (193-204). In the Introduction Michalopoulos (henceforth M.) dedicates a paragraph to recent scholarship on ancient poets' uses of etymologies and then presents the book's contents as "a commented lexicon of etymologies in Ovid's Metamorphoses". Next he gives the layout of each entry, which comprises the following: a paradigm passage exemplifying the etymology; evidence for the etymology from the grammatical tradition; sources and models, originality, function of etymologies; other examples of the same etymology in the Metamorphoses; and bibliographical references (their position varies). In the quoted passages the author indicates the terms of the etymology with bold letters. The Introduction contains two more sections: on the classification of etymologies (drawing on the work of Cairns and O'Hara),1 and on etymological markers (drawing on the work of Maltby and Cairns).2

M. has conveniently put together material already noticed by other scholars as well as probable cases of etymological wordplay that have received little or no attention. I give a few examples of the latter: anima (animus)--exsanguis (where anima < A)/NAIMA, "sine sanguine"); annus -- renovare; annus--anus; bracchium -- βραχύς; the group cervus, crus, Autonoeius (3.194-201); Cleonae--humiles; various etymologies of deus; Eurus--Aurora; frutex--tego; hasta--stare; Invidia--videre; ira -- ire; nox--noceo; nubes--nubere;3 nympha--νύμφη; pinus--acutus; vita--sanguis; sol--solus; telum--τηλόθεν; tergum--terra; various etymologies of Venus (cf. Paschalis 1997, 44); vulnus--vis. The presentation is in most cases lucid and contains the basic information for each entry. More cross-references would have increased the usefulness of the book. It is a pity that M.'s Lexicon has not profited enough from the scholarship on the subject produced in the years after it had been accepted for publication.

For additions and corrections to M's Lexicon see the APPENDIX at the end of the present review, preceding the notes.

In 1991 Robert Maltby published his valuable Lexicon of Ancient Latin Etymologies.4 But compiling a lexicon of suggested or evoked etymologies found in the Metamorphoses, as Michalopoulos does, is very different from compiling a lexicon of explicit etymologies of Latin words found in grammarians and scholiasts, as Maltby did. Strictly speaking, the term "lexicon" does not apply to the first case: in a lexicon you include everything, not just what suits your criteria and judgment. The attempt to reduce suggested etymological meaning occurring in Latin literary texts to dictionary meaning creates a number of problems. I will focus on only one. In M.'s Lexicon the restricted notion of "etymological marker" becomes the absolute rule while narrative and semantic context do not matter at all. To give an elementary example: M. discusses only 10 out of the 34 names of Actaeon's hounds; he admits that all names are "appropriate to dogs", but apparently he does not include the semantic environment of the list itself in the notion of "etymological marker". The inclusion of self-evident etymologies lacking specific etymological markers would have doubled the size of the book.

In a broader sense, attaching importance to context amounts to looking upon etymological meaning as something integrated in a literary text, as underpinning or shaping the literary discourse. A lexicon entry is static and cannot accommodate the dynamic aspect of etymologizing, one especially notable in narrative poetry. Let me give a few examples. Stephen Wheeler5 studied the bilingual etymologizing link between Iphis and Latin vis-vires-vir or semantically related words, and concluded that Ovid "develops an etymologizing subtext [around the name Iphis] that calls attention to the missing element of male sexuality (196)." M.'s lexicon entry s.v. "Iphis" mentions only that Ligdus named his newborn child after his grandfather and that this was a regular practice in antiquity (in the same story Wheeler discusses also the context-based etymology of the names Ligdus, Telethusa, and Ianthe, not found in M.). In the case of "Byblis" M. mentions only the naming of the spring after the heroine, while Tissol follows Ahl, who detected an allusion to βύβλος (βίβλος) ("papyrus"; "book"), and discusses the same name in the context of the contrast between spoken and written communication.6 Finally, Alison Keith has recently shown how Ovid shapes the Pyramus and Thisbe narrative around anagrammatic and paronomastic puns on mora ("mulberries") -- amor -- mors -- mora ("delay") and the Greek etymology of mora ("flowing blood").7

The discussion of Saturnia offers another good example of the difference between a static and a dynamic approach to literary etymologizing. M. records the wordplay Saturnia--satia in 9.176-178, found in Feeney and O'Hara,8 but he omits the Actaeon and Semele narratives discussed in Feeney: in the Actaeon story the greed of the dogs and Diana's anger are both "sated" (satiatae 3.140; satiata 3.252), but in the Semele story Juno swears that she will not be "sated" (nec sum Saturnia ..., 271) until she sends Semele to the underworld. Let me expand a little on Juno, whose problem is fundamentally different from that of virgin Diana. The Aeneid shows that Saturnia is associated not only with satis / saturo but also with sero, and that there is a semantic conflict between Saturnia and Saturnus (Paschalis 1997, 55-57). In Ovid's Semele story (3.253-315) Saturnia's wrath and desire for "satisfaction" are aroused by the fact that "Semele" is pregnant with the "seed" of mighty Jupiter (gravidamque dolet de semine magni / esse Iovis Semelen). Juno will prove her identity as Saturnia by destroying Semele together with the offspring of Jupiter's semen.

Examples of this sort are numerous. Actually, M. tends to take into account only what he sees in the immediate context (usually passages 2-5 lines long). In the Cephalus and Procris story (7.661-865), which M's Lexicon leaves out, Aurora and aura are of pivotal importance, in the sense that they relate directly to the plot-structure: in the first part Cephalus is abducted by Aurora and in the second part Procris suspects him of having an affair with a girl named Aura, who is actually aura, the "breeze". As Cephalus, tired after hunting, is addressing the refreshing aura, the ambiguous talk reaches somebody's ears (aurem); he assumes that aura is a nymph and informs Procris. She thinks her husband has taken a mistress and goes out to catch him in the act. Cephalus sets out for hunting after dawn (Aurorae) and invokes the cool morning breeze (aura); Procris betrays her presence with a noise and Cephalus, mistaking her for a beast, wounds her gravely with her spear that had an aurea cuspis (cf. 7.673).9 There is no testimony for an etymological connection of aura with auris, though this connection is significant because it involves communication of sound; but Aurora was etymologized from aurum or aura (Maltby 1991, s.v.). Actually, the circumstances of Procris' death bring Aurora, aura and aurum together, while the Aurorae -- aura link (836-838) serves "as an ironic reminder of Cephalus' first absence and its unhappy results".10

In conclusion, M's book will prove useful to scholars and students who would like a convenient collection of instances of etymological wordplay in the Metamorphoses. The author should also be credited with the discovery of original material in this area. On the other hand, the book's convenience constitutes also its major weakness. Its shape as a "Lexicon" is the result of the author's belief that the function of etymological meaning in narrative poetry is restricted to one word at a time and its etymological marker, and that etymological meaning is somehow equivalent to ordinary dictionary meaning. Because M. is by principle indifferent to arguments that cover longer stretches of narrative (whole stories or sections of stories, groups of stories etc.), his Lexicon fails to register the truly distinguishing and innovative features of Ovid's epic, which etymologizing may either underpin or generate. It is the reviewer's belief that the time is ripe for producing comprehensive readings of Ovid's stories based on the structural relationship between etymological semantics and narrative.


Additions and corrections to existing entries: ACOETES' SAILORS: to the discussion of Melanthus, add flavam ... Ianthen (9.715). Another speaking name is Proreus < PRWREU/S < PRW=RA, "prow". πρωρεώς was the officer in command at the prow, the lookout man. ACTAEON'S HOUNDS: since the meaning of all names is "appropriate to dogs", they should have been all explained (this is done by Anderson, 359 f.).11 To the discussion of Aello, add Harpyia (215, Aello was one of the Harpies) and Laelaps ("Hurricane"; compare the speed of Laelaps, Cephalus' dog, in 7.771 ff., which the author discusses s. v. "oculus"). Two more pairs in the same catalogue work together: Hylaeus < U(LAI=OS < U(/LH ("forest") and Nape < NA/PH ("wooded glen"; nigram ["black"] frontem distinctus ab albo ["white"] / Harpalos et Melaneus < ME/LAS ("black"). DIVES: add 4.510-1 ad inania magni / regna ... Ditis, where inania evokes by inversion the etymology of Dis (Paschalis 1997, 175). AMMON: the Servian association of Ammon's horns with inuoluta responsa has no application here; oracular responses are not an issue, only the theriomorphic representation of Jupiter Ammon. ARCUS: Isidore's etymology of arcus from ar(tus) and cu(rvus) is far-fetched for 6.63-64, and runs contrary to M.'s firm belief that a syllable cannot be a unit of sense (1 n.1; 135). ARDEA: the etymology from ardeo should also be added because the bird ardea emerges after the city is burned. (O'Hara 1996a, 265.) AVIS: add 5.533-550, the ironic transformation into a bird (avem) of Ascalaphus, son of the Avernal nymph Orphne (Avernalis < Avernus < A)/ORNOS, "birdless"). CLIPEUS: a very common etymology was from κλέπτω ("steal", "cheat"), which conceived protection behind a shield as concealment. This etymology is hinted at in post clipeumque late (13.79), in connection with Servius, on Aen. 2.389: "clipeos" maiora scuta, quibus latemus ...). DRACO: the entry misses most relevant passages: uident ... draconem (2.561); servanda draconi (4.647); pervigilem ... draconem (7.149); ab insomni concustodita dracone (9.190.) GALATEA: the discussion of this name does not take into consideration other lines of Polyphemus's address to Galatea that involve "whiteness", not even references to milk: mollior et cycni plumis et lacte coacto (14.796), and esp. lac mihi semper adest niveum (14.829; cf. nivei, Galatea, 789). HONOR: the entry misses the only clear example for the honor--onus wordplay: mixtoque oneri gaudebat honore (2.634).12 LUCTUS: the discussion of the lugere / luce egere wordplay misses the only clear occurrence, 2.381 ff. and specifically 383-384: lucemque odit ... / datque animum in luctus et luctibus adicit iram. LYAEUS / LIBER: add 13.667-69. The daughters of Anius raise their arms, still free (libera, unfettered: cf. iamque parabantur captivis vincla lacertis) to the sky, and ask for the aid of Bacchus. The lines evoke the etymology of Liber, Bacchus' other name, from liberare. OREAS: it is not true that in Virgil "no attempt is made at etymologizing Oreades": the scene in Aen. 1.498 ff. is set per iuga Cynthi (cf. further Paschalis 1997, 342). TANTALUS (under PHAEDIMUS): the name is glossed by labori (6.239). VIRGA: the virga--virgo link (11.307-9) is not mere soundplay, cf. Paschalis 1997, 212-213, 359.

Additional entries: ACMON: The cluster deficiunt finemque rogant erroris, et Acmon suggests by inversion the etymology of Acmon from ἄκμων, "unwearied", ἀκάματος AGENOR: ... in Agenore natus vestigatque viros (3.51-52) the noun viros glosses ἀνήρ, the second component of Agenor. ALCIDES: the cluster Alcide ... viribus (9.110) suggests an etymology of Alcides from ἀλκή, "strength", "force". ALBA: clarus subit Alba Latinum (14, 612, with O'Hara 1996a, 265). ALPES: aeriaeque Alpes (2.226, with O'Hara 1996a, 259). AMPYCUS: the priest appears ... velatus tempora vitta (5.110), which suggests an etymology from ἄμπυξ, "headband" (André 193).13 ANDRAEMON: vir Andraemon (9.363) suggests an etymology of the name from ἀνήρ ("man", "husband"; cf. also vimque dei passa ... excipit Andraemon et habetur coniuge felix, 331-333). ANDROS: the island (13.649) was named after Anius' son; the context of the story of Anius's son and daughters suggests an etymology of Andros from ἀνήρ, vir.14 CUMAE: the passage loca feta palustribus undis, / litora Cumarum (14.103-104) suggests two etymologies of Cumae (κύμη): from κύω ("be pregnant"), and from κῦμα ("wave"; Paschalis 1997, 210-211). CYTHEREIA (CYTHEREA): the passage exigit indicii memorem Cythereia poenam / ... tectos qui laesit amores (4.190-191) evokes the etymology of Cytherea from κεύθω ("hide", "conceal"; cf. Paschalis 1997, 50-51). ECHION: the most important among the survivors of the Spartoi, born of the dragon's teeth (3.126), suggests ἔχις ("adder", "viper"). Pentheus is Echionides / Echione natus and the etymology is vital for his rhetoric (531 ff.). FORMICA: formicas ore gerentes (7.265, with O'Hara 1996a, 261) LEUCONOE / LEUCOTHOE: The Minyeid Leuconoe narrates the loves of the Sun-god; among them is Leucothoe. The context involves light and evokes λευκός ("bright") as well as Latin lux and lumen; note especially the clusters Leuconoe ... luce (168-169), Leucothoen spectas ... oculos (195-196), Leucothoen ... lumina (220). NAIDES / NAIADES: the meaning "water-nymphs" is repeatedly suggested: 1.691 ff. (Syrinx), 3.505-506, 4.289 (329, 356, Salmacis), 14.557 etc. ORPHNE: the underworld habitat of the Nymph (5.539-542; esp. atris) suggest ὄρφνη ("darkness"). PELOROS / PELORUS: in Siculique angusta Pelori (15.706) the contrast with angusta suggests for Pelori an etymology from πέλωρος, "huge"; cf. Paschalis 1997, 147 f.). POLYDORUS: the cluster Polydore ... praemia magnas / ... opes ... avari (13.432-34) vary the meaning of πολύδωρος as "the youth of many gifts"; cf. Paschalis 1997, 111 ff. POLYMESTOR: vadit ad artificem dirae Polymestora cladis (13.551) suggests for artificem, in addition to "perpetrator", the sense "schemer" (cf. Aen. 125 artificis scelus, of Odysseus), and hence Greek πολυμέστωρ. PSAMATHE: The name of the Nereid (caeruleam Psamathen 11.398), widow of Phocus, is derived from ψάμαθος, "sand". She sends a wolf that destroys Peleus' herd, which is found on the shore and specifically "on the yellow sand" (fulvis ... harenis, 355). PUTO: for putator ("pruner") ... putares ("you would have thought") (14.649-50) see the evidence in Maltby, s.v. ROMANUS: res Romana valet (14.809): Rome was formerly called Valentia, and Roma, its later name, was derived from Greek ῥώμη (on Romulus / Roma cf. further Paschalis 1997, 295-296). RUDENS: for stridore rudentes (11.495) see O'Hara 1996a, 265. SYMPLEGADES: the passage undarum sparsas Symplegadas elisarum (Met. 15.338) partially renders the pun compressosque utinam Symplegadas elisissent (Ov. Her. 12.123) noted by André (193). TRINACRIS: This name for Sicily (commonly Trinacria) was derived from τρεῖς ἄκραι with reference to the "three promontories" of Sicily: Pelorus, Pachynus, and Lilybaeum (13.724, and Paschalis 1997, 137). In 5.347 Trinacris is glossed by the three limits of Sicily mentioned in the same order.


1.   F. Cairns, "Ancient Etymology and Tibullus: On the Classification of Etymologies and on Etymological Markers", PCPS 42 (1996) 24-59; J. J. O'Hara, Vergil and the Alexandrian Tradition of Etymologizing, Ann Arbor 1996.
2.   R. Maltby, "Varro's Attitude to Latin Derivations from Greek", PLLS 7 (1993) 47-60; Cairns 1996.
3.   M. Paschalis, Virgil's Aeneid: Semantic Relations and Proper Names, Oxford 1997, 38.
4.   R. Maltby, A Lexicon of Ancient Latin Etymologies, Leeds 1991.
5.   S. M. Wheeler, "Changing Names: The Miracle of Iphis in Ovid Metamorphoses 9", Phoenix 51 (1997) 190-202.
6.   G. Tissol, The Faces of Nature: Wit, Nature, and Cosmic Origins in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Princeton 1997, 42-52; F. Ahl, Metaformations: Soundplay and Wordplay in Ovid and Other Classical Poets, Ithaca 1985, 211.
7.   Alison M. Keith, "Etymological Wordplay in Ovid's 'Pyramus and Thisbe' (Met. 4.55-166)", CQ 51 (2001) 309-313.
8.   D. Feeney, The Gods in Epic: Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition, Oxford 1991, 201; J. J. O'Hara, "Vergil's Best Reader? Ovidian Commentary on Vergilian Etymological Wordplay", CJ 91 (1996 =1996a) 255-76, 265.
9.   Ahl 204-208; Tissol 28-29.
10.   W. S. Anderson, Ovid's Metamorphoses: Books 6-10, Oklahoma 1972, 835.
11.   W. S. Anderson, Ovid's Metamorphoses: Books 1-5, Oklahoma 1996.
12.   Alison M. Keith, The Play of Fictions: Studies in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book 2, Ann Arbor 1992, 85.
13.   J. André, "Ovide helléniste et linguiste", RPh 49 (1975) 191-195.
14.   M. Paschalis, "The Voyage: Intertextual Readings in Boccaccio's Teseida and its Greek Translation, Classical Epic and Dante", Enthumesis N. Panaghiotaki, Herakleion 2000, 563-582, 574.

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